David Lister: Here's a sacrilegious thought: maybe charging for museum entry would be a good thing

The Week in Arts

Share

I have in my life met many, many people who have been to Paris and visited the Louvre and loved the experience. I have never in my life met anyone who has come back and complained about paying to get into it.

That awkward fact plays on my mind as we all celebrate 10 years of free admission to national museums and galleries, and the subsequent increase in visitor numbers.

I should be celebrating as I was among those campaigning for free admission a decade ago. But I'm having second thoughts. One reason is that while admission is proclaimed to be free, those special exhibitions that take place in the free institutions, say, Degas at the Royal Academy or Leonardo at the National Gallery, are ever more expensive, £14 and £16 respectively in those two cases. And that's not to mention those charges for audio guides, cloakrooms, gallery maps.

I also begin to wonder if all national museums and galleries need to be free. With art galleries, people do tend to go back and revisit particular paintings or rooms. Those who work nearby might even visit several times a week in their lunch hour. But is that really quite as likely at, say, the Natural History Museum? Marvellous, as it is, is that really a three-visit a week institution?

And then there is the tourist factor. International visitors now make up a third of visitors to national museums. Why exactly are they getting free admission in these straitened times? Of course, you can't have people show their passports at a gallery to sort the home-grown taxpayers from overseas visitors. But could one not have a tourist tax at hotels, part of which would go to the upkeep of museums and galleries?

The museums and galleries boast that they have broadened their audience since free admission was introduced. But I suspect that the Royal Opera House and National Theatre would also broaden their audience if they were free. Art does seem to have a special status here. And, by the way, there's a little less to free admission than meets the eye. The Tate is free in London, but not in St Ives. Work that one out if you can.

I also wonder if art galleries might go out of their way more to attract visitors if they knew that visitors were paying. Might they perhaps open in the evenings every day, an idea I suggested a few weeks ago. Readers reacted very positively, agreeing that galleries were open when many of us were at work, and not always open when we had the time and inclination to visit.

A cheap season ticket to national museums and galleries – a version of the Art Pass that the National Art Fund offers to visit museums across the country – might bring income to galleries and ensure that tourists paid their way.

One feels almost heretical saying it, but if galleries opened at night, and if exhibitions were included in the price of general admission, charging might have its virtues.

A sledgehammer to crack a Nutcracker

As reported in this paper earlier this week, there are four productions of The Nutracker in London this Christmas. That would be funny if it wasn't a little serious. All four productions of Tchaikovsky's ballet are either at publicly subsidised venues or being staged by publicly subsidised companies, or both.

Being in receipt of public money surely means a responsibility not to replicate another publicly subsidised company in the same city. And, more important, we keep being told that there is a new generation of dynamic choreographers around. Do they hibernate at this time of year? Is it beyond the wit of any of them to come up with an alternative Christmas treat for dance lovers? If I were dispensing the cash next year, I would say there should be only one Nutcracker in the capital. Then maybe dance companies would make the effort to come up with some new material.

Next time you see a tramp at an awards do...

Awards ceremonies often need livening up, and this week I heard an excellent story of one where this is certainly what happened. Melvyn Bragg hosts the South Bank Show Awards (now resuscitated by Sky Arts along with the show itself). I was chatting to Bragg about this, and he revealed that one year he invited the notoriously enigmatic graffiti artist Banksy to the awards. To everyone's surprise, Banksy accepted. However, he clearly had second thoughts walking to the ceremony at the Savoy, and gave his ticket to a tramp in the Strand. The tramp folded up his bedding, put it over his shoulder and took up the invitation.

The doorman at the Savoy must have been warned that Banksy might be a little eccentric, as he welcomed the tramp, saying, "This way please, Mr Banks." The tramp duly took his place at the table and enjoyed a very cultural lunch, or as Bragg put it, "He got pissed out of his mind."

I wonder how many people at the event realised it wasn't the real Banksy.

d.lister@independent.co.uk / twitter.com/davidlister1

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there